The Rule of 1/3s

Simply put: 1/3 of your performances will be average, 1/3 will be great, and 1/3 will suck. Keeping this rule in mind can help add needed perspective throughout your career.

When things go wrong, it is just getting one of the sucks out of the way so it is more likely the next time will be a normal or a great.

As you continue to develop your skills and improve your standards change and greats become normals. Just keep in mind that as soon as we perform a great, oftentimes we expect it to become a normal. It is not a normal until you are reliably performing it 1/3 of the time.

Understanding the Rule of 1/3s helps keep you on the Mastery path.


The Rewards of Punishments and Punishments of Rewards

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx. The Madden Curse.

These are examples of our beliefs about the effects a little positive publicity can have on performance. Studies have actually been done providing “evidence” that the jinx and the curse exist. But there is a much simpler and more straightforward explanation than superstitions and magical thinking.

When an athlete or performer is graced with positive publicity, it is usually as a result of an extraordinary performance. Think what that means: literally, extra-ordinary. Far above average.

Therefore, by definition, it is more likely that the athlete or performer’s subsequent performance will return to ordinary. In light of the recent extraordinary performance, ordinary performance feels like a curse. In fact, it is also likely that the athlete’s performance will be slightly below ordinary. Again, this is the meaning of ordinary or average.

A .300 hitter doesn’t hit .300 every game. Some games s/he hits .400, some games, .200, some games 1.000, some games .000. The average over time is .300.

For leaders, managers, and coaches, this also explains the odd phenomenon of why your athletes/performers do better after you punish them and worse after you praise them. It is not because you have filled them with fear/motivation from your punishment or they have become complacent/lazy due to your praise. It is simply the return of their performance to “normal.” Normal is an increase after poor performance and a decrease after great performance. (see Mastery)


A great quote on curiosity as an engine for growth from the book Curious? by Todd Kashdan (p. 19-20).

By being curious, we explore.

By exploring, we discover.

When this is satisfying, we are more likely to repeat it.

By repeating it, we develop competence and mastery.

By developing competence and mastery, our knowledge and skills grow.

As our knowledge and skills grow, we stretch and expand who we are and what our life is about.

By dealing with novelty, we become more experienced and intelligent, and infuse our lives with meaning.

When is the last time you approached your performance with true curiosity? If you haven’t been genuinely surprised, fascinated, or engaged with your performance lately, see if you can bring an attitude of curiosity back into it. What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your performance? How has this changed over the years? When is the last time you learned something new about your performance? When is the last time you gave yourself credit for learning something new about your performance?

Curiosity and mindfulness go hand in hand, and both are the opposite of bored, stagnant, and disinterested. If you are curious, you will be more mindful. If you are mindful, you will be more curious.

And in either state it is impossible to be bored because you will notice the nuance, the difference, the uniqueness of each moment.

Trust: Mastery

What do you expect your performance to look like over time? Many of us hope for something like this:

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Unfortunately, that is not reality. In his excellent book Mastery, George Leonard suggests that the path to mastery looks like this:

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Not exactly what most of us hope for. Certainly not what most of us are patient and trusting enough to stick with when we are stuck on another plateau.

Yet this is the only path to mastery of any skill: gradual improvements followed by periods of seeming stagnation (sometimes even declines as we learn new skills/techniques necessary for improvement) prior to an outward expression of learning. The outward expression is the key phrase there. Certainly learning and improvement are happening the entire time we are on the plateau. But because we do not get the rewards (both internal and external) of improvements in performance, we tend to despise the plateau and get frustrated.

Trust involves learning to love the plateau. Knowing that this is the time you are preparing yourself for another little breakthrough in performance. Even more that that, it is your time with your performance. No distractions from the joys (and sometimes burdens) and attention that come with increased performance. Reconnect with your passion and inspiration for your performance. Know that another improvement is inevitably coming if you stick with it. Know that others will drop out while they are on the plateau.

Trust the mastery process. Trust yourself. Love the plateau.


Inspiration addresses the “How?” and the “Why?” of performance in terms of both breadth and depth. As mentioned earlier, inspiration represents the soul, and Plato’s three divisions of the soul are a good illustration of the breadth of inspiration: appetite, spirit, and reason. From a societal perspective, appetite corresponds with the productive caste of workers, merchants, farmers, etc., and in an individual performer would represent the hard work and years of deliberate practice (see Ericsson, 1996) necessary for expertise. Spirit is the protective caste of society and represents the strength, bravery, and courage to pursue, in this case, excellence. Reason is the governing caste of society and consists primarily of wisdom and rational decision making necessary to achieve the planning and commitment necessary for the journey of mastery (see Leonard, 1992).

To be truly inspirational, the depth of one’s pursuit of excellence must extend beyond the desire for fame, glory, success, and even excellence itself. Inspiration must connect to the core values of a person and the chosen purpose and meaning of his or her life. When this is achieved, “(values) permit actions to be coordinated and directed over long time frames” (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999, p. 206). As Ericsson (1996) has demonstrated, expertise takes a long time to develop, and without inspiration it is unlikely that the dedication necessary for excellence will be maintained. Furthermore, in order to have the essential courage to take the risks necessary to pursue performance excellence, it helps to have a purpose bigger than oneself. Connecting the pursuit of excellence to the inspiration for life provides the motivation, energy, and commitment required of performance excellence.